After the end of the war over seven years ago, the role of the military in the North also altered according to time. Those who were once seen as solely armed services personnel who maintain security in the region, became social workers, helping out the war-affected people in their own ways for them to get back on their feet.
In the recent past, the Army has been involved in several social activities and organized events for the participation of the public.
This time around, it has got involved in a slightly different activity.
With the assistance of the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Resettlement and other parties, the SFHQ-J led by Major General Mahesh Senanayake began to shoulder a housing project for 971 internally-displaced families who were being sheltered in 31 welfare centres.
Though seven years have passed since the end of fighting, 3,388 persons continue to remain in camps and temporary shelters as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Most of the IDPs have been living in temporary shelters for almost 26 years. Their children and their children’s children have also started living in these shelters.
“Three generations have lived there. Those who belong to the third generation have not heard the noise of a single gunshot. That’s why we can’t delay the resettlement process further,” Jaffna Commander Major General Mahesh Senanayake told journalists who visited several welfare camps in Jaffna and the Keerimalai Housing Project which is being constructed by the Army.
According to Senanayake, the forces had commenced a housing project in Keerimalai on a 47-acre land. Each beneficiary will receive a new house on 20 a perch plot of land, comprising two bed rooms, a living-room, worshipping area, dining area, kitchen, toilet and bathroom, covering 630 square feet.
The housing scheme would also include a community centre, playground, nursery, fish market, water facility, a road network, medical centres and all the necessary facilities.
The project is being carried out as a joint venture by the Ministry of Defence, Army, Ministry of Resettlement and the Jaffna District Secretariat.
The Army has undertaken all the constructions with its expertise and the funds are provided by the Resettlement Ministry. The Government Agent is responsible for procurement and supply of materials within the area.
The resettlement process will be carried out in two stages where 100 families will be initially resettled followed by another 33 in the second phase. The families have been given the option of choosing a house plan.
According to Senanayake, the project has cost the government over Rs.122 million. He further added that once completed the value of a housing unit will be Rs. 4.4 million, including the land value.
Currently, the Konapulam welfare centre houses 455 inmates from 101 families while the Kannaki and Sabhapathipillai welfare centres have over 100 families. Other shelters have a lesser number of IDPs.
At Kannaki Camp there are 121 families and all have been provided with temporary houses. The number of persons there, including the kids amounts to almost 400 and all the basic facilities have been provided. Each house on 20 perch plots of land is made with clay or wood and the roof is covered by aluminum sheets.
The camps are fenced with palmyrah leaves or aluminum sheets. They do not have luxurious furniture, but plastic chairs to sit on. The pathways are populated with cattle, dogs, cats and pigeons.
Cyril Antony Queen, who was a resident of Walikamam had come to this welfare centre with his mother. His ability to handle the English language had made it easy for him easy to work with Government officials and the outside world.
At present, he coordinates the activities of the welfare centres. Speaking to reporters he said that the basic facilities provided for them are satisfactory but their dream is to live in their own place.
“We came here in 1990 and the welfare centre was set up in 1996. We have been here for over 26 years now. A nursery, tube wells, sanitary facilities, electricity and everything else is provided here. Almost all the males engage in some odd jobs for daily wages”, he said.
He also spoke about the life in a welfare centre. “The scorching sun burns us during the day and the heat and sweat bother us daily. Life gets worse on rainy days. Other than that we have no issues except our dream of free living”, he added.
Vemmankaman is the area where the Army had released lands to its original owners. They have also been provided a sum of Rs. 800,000 to purchase the materials for the construction of houses. Several NGOs have already assisted them building the toilets and water supply has been completed.
Major General Senanayake also said that only 289 families out of 971 have their own lands to demand. All others were on places of their relatives, friends or sometimes on rent basis.
“Keerimalai is basically for the landless persons. We have planned to complete the project in 45 days, but the unavailability of materials and bad weather blocked us from reaching the target,” he added.
Pics by Eshan Dasanayake